Boost your brain to study

January 20, 2022

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You might already know it, but your brain is one of the most complex and important organs in the body. You might also know that you mainly use your brain while studying for exams. We all have trouble studying, and especially focusing at times. However, these problems can be solved by bringing some habits into your life. These habits are the following.

Take a deep breath…

Firstly, mindfulness. Mindfulness is proposed to be the self-regulation of attention. It includes the development of four mental activities; (1) sustaining attention to a chosen object, (2) seeing through the distraction (if there is any), (3) breaking away from the distracting object, and (4) correcting the distraction by refocusing on the chosen object. This It may sound useless to do this, but there is scientific evidence that this improves the functionality of your brain. Well-known organizations such as the U.S. army and Google are implementing it into the workplace to boost performance. Some benefits are that it helps the brain to process information better, and it helps to attain attention to a task or object, in other words, it helps to focus. These things are, unsurprisingly, useful while studying. Another advantage is that it improves divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is a process of creating several solutions or ideas to a problem that has to be solved. It is the opposite of convergent thinking, the process of following a few steps to come to one right solution. Being able to divergently think might be very useful when you don’t see the solution right away. Besides, since studying could be stressful, especially under time pressure, mindfulness helps to reduce stress. Additionally, mindfulness is the opposite of acting and thinking on autopilot, i.e., having no meta-awareness. So, if you want to implement some of the mindfulness tricks into your studies, it is very important to be aware of what you are actually doing. Practicing mindfulness has short- and long-term effects. So, starting today can have a positive effect on next week!  As the practice of mindfulness is pretty abstract, it might be unclear how to execute this. An example of this could be noting (noticing). You can bring your attention to breathing, and focus on the process of the breath entering and leaving the body. Do this for approximately 10 minutes and correct yourself if your thoughts go to something else. To wrap up the mindfulness section, here’s one last tip: there are plenty of apps and programs out there that will easily guide you through the mindfulness process, so downloading one of those is a good first step.

Food

Secondly, the diet that you choose affects your study skills. Just like taking nutritional supplements before exercising, you can also do this before studying. The first well known “supplement” is caffeine. Apart from being in coffee, it is also contained in tea and soft drinks. Caffeine prevents you from having the sensation of tiredness, helps to focus, and it is speculated that it enhances your memory. The optimal moments (in general) to take a cup of coffee are approximately between 10 am and 12 pm, and between 2 pm and 5 pm. It has been agreed upon that three cups of coffee a day is enough, more in the longer term is not recommended. A great substitute for coffee, without the negative side effects (or if you don’t like coffee), is green tea. You could combine caffeine and theacrine, contained in Camilla for example, for a whole other level of effects. It is very much like caffeine, but it doesn’t cause the “dip” you have after having caffeine. Or, you could only use theacrine, but when you combine the two the effect of theacrine gets magnified. It also inhibits the fatigue that you can get due to stress. The next nutrient that can help you with your studies is omega-3, a fatty acid, contained in, among other things, fatty fish. Studies have put forward that there is more gray matter in the brains of those who eat fatty fish regularly. The positive effects of this nutrient could be linked to the fact that gray matter contains the nerves that control decision making, emotion, and memory. Unfortunately, it is not the case that you can immediately perform better after eating fish, but it does have its benefits in the long run. The last great suggestion is dark chocolate. According to one study, those who ate chocolate more frequently performed better in a series of mental tasks, compared with those who rarely ate it. It is also speculated to be a mood booster, but that could also be because of the taste. Anyway, it’s a good excuse to eat chocolate, although it sadly does not apply to milk chocolate and white chocolate…

More movement

Thirdly and lastly, sports. You may have heard this one enough, but it is worth emphasizing one more time. Exercise stimulates a stronger connection between brain cells and the production of these cells. These two things make communication between brain cells smoother. These effects mainly affect the part of the brain that we use when studying! Another great thing is that if you feel tired, exercising helps against that, as it stimulates oxygen supply. It is recommended to spend 2.5-5 hours a week on cardio and otherwise 1.25 -1.5 hours for more intensive sports. There is a chance that this does not fit in your schedule. In that case it is recommended that you take every chance that you have to move your body more. You can bike instead of taking the bus, for example, stand while calling a friend, or take walking breaks between studying. All the little bits help!

To finish, these habits could be seen as quick and easy. However, starting is always difficult, so start by including one of these three tips into your life, to begin with. As a disclaimer, I would recommend you to actually study as well, as it is a pity that you cannot rely on these tips alone. 

Sources: 

Ren, Jun & Huang, Zhihui & Luo, Jing & Wei, Gaoxia & Ying, Xiaoping & Ding, Zhiguang & Wu, Yibin & Luo, Fei. (2011). Meditation promotes insightful problem-solving by keeping people in a mindful and alert conscious state. Science China. Life sciences. 54. 961-5. 10.1007/s11427-011-4233-3.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-mindfulness-change-your-brain-202105132455

https://hbr.org/2019/01/how-mindfulness-can-help-engineers-solve-problems

van Tilborg A., Bijlsma T., Muis S. (2019) Mindfulness in the Dutch Military – Train Your Brain. In: Klinkert W., Bollen M., Jansen M., de Jong H., Kramer EH., Vos L. (eds) NL ARMS Netherlands Annual Review of Military Studies 2019. NL ARMS (Netherlands Annual Review of Military Studies). T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6265-315-3_10

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41538-017-0008-y

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-brain-foods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2

Feduccia AA, Wang Y, Simms JA, Yi HY, Li R, Bjeldanes L, Ye C, Bartlett SE. Locomotor activation by theacrine, a purine alkaloid structurally similar to caffeine: involvement of adenosine and dopamine receptors. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2012 Aug;102(2):241-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2012.04.014. Epub 2012 May 9. PMID: 22579816.

Yi-Fang Li, Min Chen, Chen Wang, Xiao-Xiao Li, Shu-Hua Ouyang, Chi-Chi He, Zhong-Fu Mao, Bun Tsoi, Hiroshi Kurihara, Rong-Rong He, Theacrine, a purine alkaloid derived from Camellia assamica var. kucha, ameliorates impairments in learning and memory caused by restraint-induced central fatigue,Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 16, 2015, Pages 472-483,

ISSN 1756-4646, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2015.05.003.

(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S175646461500239X)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7103640/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-brain-foods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5


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